Case study

DR Congo at 50: community reconstruction

A newly built school is the pride of one remote village, thanks to DFID funding.

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The road up to Monaria village seems endless. It twists and turns in uninterrupted ascent, offering stunning views across the valley. The village is perched at the very top, sheltered in a cloister of trees. A single storey building made of planks of wood sits alongside the covered open frame of a single room wood building.

This is the community school, decided on and built together by the whole community as part of the DFID funded Tuungane project.

Marta Mwhuma, 64, describes what it was like before Tuungane. “Before the project, the school was way down the valley. It was very difficult for the children to go to school: the hill is very steep and it took a long time to get down - and even longer to get back up.

“The pitch is extreme. Even worse was when it rained. The hill turned into mud, and there were mudslides. It was very dangerous.”

Treacherous conditions

Matengo Denga, 15, a student who went to the school in the valley before this one was built, says that many children fell and were injured, some badly, including himself.

“I was in the third grade - about 9 years old and it was raining. It was so difficult to get down the hill in the rain with all the mud. A lot of children just didn’t go to school when it rained.

“That day, it was so muddy, I slipped and fell straight onto a stone. It was so painful. My knee was broken and I had to spend a whole year in bed recovering. I fell behind in my studies because of this - and my knee still hurts. I guess it always will.”

Marta explains that this is why the community chose to build a school with the Tuungane project. “Many children had to abandon school because of it; many fell behind from missing out on so many days of school when it rained. It was a pain in our hearts as it was so important for us that our children got an education.”

Matengo adds, “So many people mocked our village for not having a school or water but now we are so proud. And I now have time to rest and do my homework too.”

The community decides

“When we learned the Tuungane project was coming here, we were so excited,” Marta says.

“What was so good was that the project responded to the needs of our community - not the other way around, where it is decided for you. This was completely different. The community has responsibility for it all.”

The first thing the community did after being approached by Tuungane was to hold a community meeting. While there were many problems to address, the community discussed them all and together decided the most urgent was the need for a school.

Everyone in the community participated in the construction, providing wood planks or whatever was needed. Not only has Tuungane changed lives by allowing children to get an education, it has also had a positive effect on the community itself, bringing it together.

Before, fewer than 100 children could go to school. Now there are more than 300 students.

Sense of pride

“This building is the pride of the community,” says Daniel. “There are students who study here, but the adults also use it to learn to read and write. We also hold our community meetings here, so it is used by the entire community. Tuungane has made a huge difference on our lives.”

Christian, 11, says: “Before, I never went to the school in the valley as my parents wouldn’t let me go down the hill. Instead I had to walk two hours in the morning and two hours back every evening to reach another school.

“I had no time to study. I was so tired at the end of the day. Now I go to school every day and it only takes me 10 minutes to get there. Now, I am top of my class. I want to be a doctor.”

Facts and stats

DFID is supporting the Tuungane project, meaning “let’s unite” in Swahili, which is expected to benefit some 3.2 million people who were affected by the country’s conflict between 1998-2003 in four areas of DR Congo.

The reconstruction project will assist approximately 2,481 villages.

Tuungane is implemented by the International Rescue Committee and CARE.

So far, 2,060 projects have been implemented, such as the construction and equipping of classrooms and health centres.

The first phase has already reported outstanding results - with some clinics reporting a doubling in users since being upgraded.

To date, communities have built or rehabilitated 687 classrooms, 204 clinics and maternity units, and 249 water points.

Published 30 June 2010